Tokyo - The Start of the Tokaido

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Nihonbashi (Bridge of Japan):  All national roads in Japan were measured from this bridge in the heart of Edo.  In 1832 Hiroshige accompanied a daimyo's procession on its mission to deliver a sacred white horse to the emperor in Kyoto.  He probably had to purchase a place in the entourage.  There is a legend that his wife secretly sold her clothes and hair ornaments and presented the money she made to Hiroshige so that he could "capture the truth of landscapes for he longed to seek out places famous for their beauty in the provinces, but he lacked the funds to travel."     \n\n     Before daybreak on their assigned day, the baggage carriers, flag bearers, samurai officials and Hiroshige, assembled at Nihonbashi.  As the sun rose over the horizon, they were sent on their way.  They left behind Edo (modern Tokyo) a city of one million people that was the trend setter for literature, entertainment and fine arts.  To the left are fishmongers reading government notices on the signboards.  They worked at Tsukiji Central Market, still located on the Sumida River, though now a mile downstream.\n\n     The government declared that daimyo, samurai warlords turned local governors, were required to spend one year in Tokyo serving the shogun then the alternate year in their home province.  When the daimyo traveled to and from Edo, they were accompanied by a prescribed number of samurai, officials and porters.   Their wives and children stayed in Edo as hostages in lavish mansions.  The size of the procession and the mansion were set by government policy.  This system of sankin kotai controlled the daimyo and effectively kept them too poor to rebel against the shogun.  Their travels along the nation's highways spurred economic development beyond anyone's imagination.\n\nImage Copyright: Minneapolis Institute of Art Just like the spear carriers in Hiroshige's print, tour guides still carry flags as they lead their groups.  This tour guide led a group of junior high school students up through the streets to the steps of Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. After a group photo on the first set of stairs, the guide rallied the troops up to the next level.  She must be a terrific guide; look how the girls laugh as they follow her. When the tour buses rumble into a parking lot, the flags appear so that group members can find the right bus among the sea of scenic cruisers.  Sometimes at really crowded events, all you can see are the flags above the crush of people, slowly manuevering their groups through the mass of festival goers. Tsukiji Central Market still thrives in Tokyo.  But the means of transporting the fish have changed a lot from Hiroshige's days.  The men with their baskets have been replaced by men zooming by on diesel mini-trucks.  Here at the eastern end of the market, the mini-trucks fly by. The drivers are all ages and dispositions, but all are on the run.  Their day starts about 5:00 AM as the ships unload.  Vendors inside the market sort, pack, cut and process the fish.  Then the mini-trucks zip their loads out to the parking lot or beyond to wholesalers in a warren of nearby streets. Other people deliver seafood on handtrucks, bicycles, scooters and motorbikes.  But just like in Hiroshige's day, they stop to talk with their fellow workers, for just a minute or two. I must admit, I wonder who the jaunty bicyclist is - a worker going off duty, a friend dropping by to chat, someone just starting work at 11:00 AM?  The market goes non-stop until past nightfall, supplying restaurants with very fresh fish for the evening crowds. This delivery man just stopped by the mini-truck repair shop to chat with friends.  We couldn't believe how fast they can work.  We saw a mini-truck limp in that five minutes later zipped back to work. A few things have changed since Hiroshige's days.  This delivery man seems to be checking in with someone via text messaging  - business or pleasure? Steve's Japanese is now good enough that he could chat with a worker on a cigarette break.  Steve asked if the market was always this busy.  The answer was, "Yes, yes, it stays this busy until after 8:00 PM every day!"